Despite medical advances and increasing awareness of strokes, this tragic and all-too common medical condition is frequently misunderstood. Almost a quarter of those who suffer from strokes are under the age of 65, and between 10% and 15% of those who suffer from stroke are 45 or younger. Strokes among those under the age of 49 could also be on the rise, according to some studies.
No matter how old we are, recovering from a stroke depends on education and quick thinking. I had a massive ischemic stroke myself fourteen years ago that left me in a state of profound devastation.
1. Control the Risks. Whether you have suffered from a stroke or you’re aware of it from another person you need to know your risk factors. Many of the common risks factors can be controlled, including:
- Blood Pressure
- Heart Disease
- Unhealthy cholesterol levels
- Abnormal heart rhythm (atrial fibrillation or AFib)
- Alcohol and illegal drug use
- Lack of physical activity
- Being overweight or obese
- Stress and depression
2. Learn BE FAST. Everyone should learn these essential stroke signs, which could save lives. If a person seems to be suffering from a stroke, check for each of these, ask these clear questions, then take that final, critical step of calling 911:
B – Balance: Is the person suddenly having trouble with balance or coordination?
E – Eyesight: Is the person experiencing suddenly blurred or double vision or a sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes?
F – Face Drooping: Ask the person to smile. Is one or are both sides of the face drooping?
A – Arm Weakness: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one side drift downward? Is there weakness or numbness on one side?
S – Speech Difficulty: Does the person have slurred or garbled speech? Can he/she repeat simple phrases?
T – Time: Call 911 for immediate medical attention if you notice one or more of these signs.
3. Learn All You Can Beforehand. Don’t wait until you have already suffered from a stroke to ask questions: education yourself all about strokes and their terminology ahead of time. For instance: there are ischemic as well as hemorrhagic strokes, aphasia, and TBI’s (traumatic brain injuries).
4. Keep Learning and Asking Questions After a Stroke. After my own massive stroke, I needed to find out all I could: how it had affected me, how close to fatal it was, what I had lost and how I could recover. I learned all about strokes, seizures and aphasia, and was therefore better able to help myself recuperate. I also asked countless questions, or if I couldn’t, I had a loved one or family member ask for me. We asked my doctor, neurologists, nurses, and therapists about my medical situation, daily living concerns, and lifestyle.
5. Stay Mentally and Physically Healthy. After a stroke, it’s important to keep engaging your brain. Make sure you’re reading books, including the kinds of books you tend not to read, doing crossword puzzles or playing word games. If you love history books, read how-to’s as well. Read the newspaper, read fiction, read anything: you want to keep your brain busy. And no matter how compromised you are physically, do what you can to remain healthy: eat a proper diet, get plenty of exercise, and live a healthy lifestyle. No matter how the stroke has affected your body, you need to care of yourself.
6. Be an Advocate for Others. It’s vital for us to act as messengers, speak up and spread awareness. Share your own experiences, and answer people’s questions about strokes. Each week, as an advocate, I spend time with stroke survivors, people with aphasia, caregivers, loved ones and speech language pathologists. I talk to medical neurologists about strokes and aphasia. The need and desire to know more about strokes and related conditions is truly remarkable. So take it upon yourself to explain to people what stroke is, and how it can hit not just older but younger people, too.
7. Stay Positive, and Never Give Up. Maintain a positive mindset, and have the faith that you will be able to recover. Even as you push to overcome your limitations and solve some issues, you may also have to accept them, but always have hope. After my stroke, I had to become okay with the understanding of how it restructured my life. But at the same time, I realized early on that I had to stay determined. No one expected I would be able to beat the odds in terms of recovering my mobility and my speech. I’m still gaining strides from recuperating from aphasia and working out at the gym and yoga. But recovery takes determination, focus, resiliency, tenacity, and persistence. Never give up. If you want something bad enough then keep fighting. Just keep moving forward. It doesn’t matter how many times you fail or fall down. Pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes and come back stronger.
In spite of what we know now, and despite advances in modern medicine, strokes can be devastating. Perhaps in the future, we’ll have the means to prevent the impact of strokes, and possibly prevent them from occurring at all. In the meantime, education and awareness can improve our odds. I am living proof: you can survive a stroke and aphasia, and you can recover and thrive.